How to Break the Cycle of Tech Addiction

We’re all suffering, it’s time to take back control.

[5 minute read]

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You’re addicted to technology. So am I. Let’s just own that one up-front.

I truly believe – unless you’re living an admirably disciplined off-the-grid lifestyle – that we’re all wildly dependent on our devices. It’s the most prolific addiction of the 21st century, and unless we get brutally honest with ourselves, it has the capacity to undermine every aspect of our existence.

Now of course, it’s ironic for me to be preaching about the dangers of technology on a blog. If weren’t for the internet, you wouldn’t even be here to consider the subject. So if nothing else, please take this article as a gentle reminder that a little hiatus from the online world is a good and necessary thing.

Our Oona Series community could not exist without the wonders of the digital world, it literally allows us to move together from all corners of the globe. But it would be reckless for us not to acknowledge the impact of technology addiction, or to ignore our collective need for digital boundaries. It’s our hope that we can use this platform to facilitate education, connection and inspiration, but also do so in a way that is sensitive and critical of unhealthy tech habits.

 

What makes technology – and in particular, social media – so addictive?

In 2017, it was estimated that 210 million people worldwide suffer from internet and social media addiction. If these were the estimations in a pre-pandemic world, can you imagine what technology usage patterns look like now? A recent study from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health also discovered that the use of multiple social media platforms increased the risk of depression and anxiety in participants.

You might feel relaxed or ‘mindless’ as you consume content across your favourite sites, but the inner workings of your mind tell another story. We now know that your brain releases an increased number of dopamine signals as you search and scroll. Over time, our system starts to make connections with the higher levels of dopamine, teaching us that phone or computer-based activity is something we should repeat to experience pleasure. Like with all addiction patterns however, the positive feelings wear off and our tolerance quickly increases. It’s not long before we need to interact with technology more to get the same feel-good effects, and on the cycle goes.

 

 

You don’t have to be an Instagram influencer to experience tech-addiction. 

Over the last few decades, our lifestyles have drastically changed – heck, our workplaces, schools and social groups have become more digital than ever before due to the impacts of COVID-19. The aspect I find the most frightening is when our habits become normalised and unconscious.

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There are so many actions that we’re all repeating on a daily basis without even realising:

The quick email or social media check the minute your alarm goes off.
The late night scroll from bed as you ‘wind down’.
The reliance on navigation apps.
The constant stimulation as you travel on public transport or wait for a bus/taxi.  
The relentless game of swipe right/swipe left on dating apps.
The micro-blogging of our every movement and thought on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. 

Comedian Bo Burnham has a genius segment his Netflix special Inside that explores the hilarious and disturbing aspects of our tech obsessions; if you don’t mind a little satire and explicit language, I highly recommend watching and taking note of “Welcome to the Internet”. It’s an important wake up call!

 

 

Instant gratification culture is another aspect of this tech-dominant world that should have our critical attention. 

As a millennial, I know my generation has been particularly impacted by this, and it’s something I’m continuously reviewing in my own life. Facebook and mobile phones didn’t really enter my life until around age 14-15, so I can only imagine how much this further affects the kids of today who often become screen-savvy as toddlers (my nephews know how to interact with an iPad – they’re 2 and 3).

The problem with instant gratification culture, as perpetuated by mobile devices and technology, is that you tend get whatever you want, whenever you want. Don’t know the answer to something? Google brings it up within seconds. Running late? You send a message ahead of your new arrival time. I can hear my Mum’s voice in my head as I type this: “We couldn’t ever do that when I was your age! If you said you were going to be somewhere at a certain time, you had to be there.”

Shortcuts and quick fixes are always going to be seductive. But the instantaneousness of it all means we don’t get used to the act of ‘figuring something out,’ and the natural trial and error process of learning. It takes patience and persistence to move through a challenge and discover something new. When technology lets us access all the answers too easily, our resilience suffers the most… then we when finally get hit with a problem that the internet can’t instantly solve for us, we’re left to wrestle with this strange sense of abandonment and inadequacy. It’s a nightmare for our personal development!

 

If we’ve got any chance of truly thriving in this technological world, I think the most important thing we can all do is implement strategies and boundaries to mitigate the risks and take back control. 

 

This could look like:

1. Digital Detox

It’s as simple (and as difficult) as logging off and deleting the key ‘culprit’ apps. You won’t miss out on hearing news that is truly important. What’s more, you’re still able to take phone calls and receive texts when you’ve deleted social media. You’re simply removing all the multi-channel over-stimulation from your life.

Top Tip: Try micro-breaks first rather than trying to go cold turkey.

2. Clean up those Apps!

How often are you really using each app on your phone? Delete as many of them as you can, the less you’re using the better. It’s also useful to devote 5 minutes a day to decluttering your devices, rather than attempting a big overhaul in one day. This could look like deleting spam emails or unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters. Centre in on the most important information you need to be receiving and get ruthless in blocking out the rest… it only serves as a distraction and source of overwhelm.

3. Notifications: OFF

Turn off all Push Notifications on every single one of your apps – they’re literally designed to disrupt your day and hook you back in. By removing this temptation, you give yourself a better chance of being more present with others, and more in control of your usage habits. If you need extra support, experiment with using Aeroplane Mode at key points in your day.

4.  Track your Activity / Monitoring Apps

Most iPhones will notify you of your average screen time per week – keep an eye on this as a means of tracking your activity.
There are now also monitoring apps in development – like AntiSocial – that help you track your addiction in relation to others in your age range, area or even occupation. You might find this kind of data gives you a confronting but useful picture of your digital habits.

5. Accountability

You’re not alone in this fight, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! Perhaps your household needs a ‘no phones after 7pm rule’ to encourage healthy socialising and improved sleep hygeine. I guarantee you’ll become a better listener and a better communicator without a screen present.

6. Tech Etiquette

Set some ground rules for yourself and again, ask others to hold you accountable. i.e. No phones at the dinner table. No phones in front of the TV. No social media within an hour of waking up or going to bed, etc.

7. Non-tech hobbies 

We love to say that we don’t have the time to learn a new skill or hobby… but what if we re-purposed all of the scrolling time throughout our days and started using these opportunities more productively? Instead of being on Instagram on your train ride home for example, you could be reading a book, taking in an inspiring podcast or spending 20 minutes on something like Duolingo – you’d still be using technology here, but you’d also be actively learning something new, which is so much more nourishing for your soul that swiping through someone else’s selfies!

8. Engage mindfully

How often do you feel depressed, anxious or guilty when looking at other people’s activity on social media? You’d have to be superhuman to not be sucked into comparison, judgement and analysis-paralysis.
Do yourself a favour and start removing information that is triggering and damaging to your mental health. You have the power to unfollow accounts and people that don’t leave you inspired, educated and empowered. That’s not to say you should only follow people who think exactly as you do – exposure to differing perspectives and experiences is important. This is more about owning your mental health needs.

9. Beware of Trolls

When you are online, be careful of how you’re interacting with others. Of course you should use your voice responsibly and compassionately, but be mindful of getting into an argument with a faceless troll – it’s never going to be a good use of your energy.

10. Make plans for real connections

Try to prioritise real-life social activities with friends and family over digital interactions wherever you can – though if you’re reading this in a location that is currently locked down due to COVID-19, I know this is easier said than done!